Professor Omar Almaghrabi talks in the Plant Factory with Post Doctoral Researcher Dr Hail Rihan
Growing crops in the Plant Factory
The extreme environmental conditions in Saudi Arabia – characterised by high temperatures, sandy soils, shortage of water and increasing salinity – presents a challenge for crop production. As a consequence, it is heavily reliant on food imports to meet its populations needs. Addressing these issues through the use of controlled environment agriculture has the potential to improve food security in Saudi Arabia.
Teams from University of Plymouth and University of Jeddah are collaborating to explore whether indoor vertical farming using a Plant Factory system, with LED artificial lighting and solar power, could help to reduce water use while increasing reliable, Saudi-based production of wholesome vegetables and salads.

Harnessing the power of solar

The key to the economic growth of Plant Factories is the provision of its power requirements by an effective solar power system. Saudi Arabia is placing great emphasis on technologies that utilised its natural environmental excesses, such as solar energy, to minimise its food security crisis – especially important as oil prices and demand decline.
This research collaboration will enable the transfer of technology and operational practices developed in the UK to researchers in Saudi Arabia, confirming the validity of the Plant Factory concept under different environmental conditions.
Solar panels on the Plant Factory

Building a Plant Factory in Saudi Arabia

Along with establishing a new Plant Factory unit, this project is also building scientific capacity at University of Jeddah to research and develop new lighting and control systems. These can be applied in multi-tier contained growing environments to explore their technical efficacy, how they can meet user requirements, and their commercial potential.
By bringing together expertise in growing, photobiology, LED light production, and facilities development, we are enabling opportunities for boosted crop production, increased income for producers, and new technology products for the market.

Objectives of the project

  • Train Saudi Arabia research team in the physiology and physics of Plant Factories.
  • Establish an experimental Plant Factory unit on the main campus of University of Jeddah and compare the efficiency of this technology with the established unit at University of Plymouth.
  • Investigate the effect of different lighting systems used within the Plant Factory unit on the growth, yield and quality of produced crops.
  • Study the feasibility of using solar energy, available throughout the year in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to cool and power the LEDs and hydroponic system in order to establish a year-round production system.
Saudi Arabia Plant Factory team
Dr Hail Rihan with the Plant Factory team in Saudi Arabia.
Hail Rihan speaking at Plant Factory conference in Saudi Arabia
Presenting our research at the University of Jeddah.

Impacts of our research

*Updated following project completion
This project served as a model to demonstrate the concept of vertical farming to academic colleagues, industry and farmers across Saudi Arabia. We were able to reinforce the research of the project partner institutions, stimulating commercial interest and attracting staff and students to the team.
University of Jeddah was established as a centre for controlled environment agriculture, both as a research theme and a commercial reality. This, in turn, built capacity for developing the technology and it is expected that this will lead to a number of commercial Plant Factories being established in the future.
Inspecting the Plant Factory
Our researchers studied the efficiency of vertical farming under two different environmental conditions.

Controlled Environment Agriculture Research Group

Our Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) team includes researchers and technical staff from both the Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Faculty of Health, working together on transdisciplinary projects advancing the use of dynamic lighting technology to grow food and medical crops.
Much of our research is carried out on-site in our bespoke Plant Factory unit. Projects focus on the development of sensors, LED lighting, control systems and precision horticulture techniques to optimise the energy efficiency of indoor growing and improve the yield and quality of target pharmaceutical compounds.
Wide shot of Plant Factory with LED lights on